liar, liar, pants on fire in my belly
On Tuesday, National Portrait Gallery Director Martin Sullivan announced the removal of the 4 minute edit of artist David Wojnaricz’s 13 minute video, Fire In My Belly, from their current exhibition, HIDE/SEEK. This removal was precipitated by protests lodged by the Catholic League and an obscure conservative blog called CSN News. Tyler Green reports that the decision to censor this work ultimately came from Smithsonian Secretary G. Wayne Clough.
Some have chosen to protest the removal of Wojnaricz’s piece. But in a stunning show of solidarity, other museums in Washington, DC are lining up behind the National Portrait Gallery with their own displays of preemptive self-censorship.
National Gallery of Art Director Earl A. "Rusty" Powell III announced at a press conference this morning that in response to possible future pressures from as-of-yet-to-be-determined organizations, his museum would begin a vigorous campaign of deaccessioning.
“As some folks phoning television talk shows have pointed out,” the director said, “representations of the prophet Muhammed likely would never be shown in local museums out of political correctness—or fear of offending Muslims.”
“It turns out,” he continued, “that our museum has significant holdings of pieces informed by Western contact with the Ottoman Empire and Safavid Iran. Rather than tempt fate or invite comment, we’ve decided to sell the whole lot off immediately.”
Powell predicted further problems down the road. “We’re meeting right now to consider closing the entire East Building—which, as you know, houses some artworks created within the last 100 years. That time period is awfully fresh—there’s a lot of unresolved history to chew on, lots of issues. Until things get a bit more inert, a bit less interesting, we should probably hold off on showing any of that work or saying anything about it.”
Powell finished the conference by suggesting additional objects might also have to go on religious grounds. “Well, you can’t take a stroll through the West Building without running into a picture of Jesus, and obviously any of those panels or paintings might be viewed differently by folks of various Christian sects…I’ve been telling the staff and curators to prepare to devote their full attention to maintaining our Garden Café, which we hope to promote as the true destination in a new, slimmed down NGA.”
Over at the Hirshhorn, chief curator Kerry Brougher announced plans for a reduced collection there as well.
“We collect lots and lots of contemporary work,” he said in a phone interview with H&S, “and it looks like that’s been a mistake. A lot of opinions; a lot of arguments. We’re feeling a little doomed, and are ready to cast a lot of art—nudie pictures, protest pictures, nudie protest pictures—out of the collection.”
“Don’t get me wrong: there’s plenty of decorative modern work in our holdings, and we might get by if we avoid figuration, artists who worked during contentious periods like WWII, or artists who are on record stating any definite position regarding anything.”
Brougher was asked if any 20th century artists were safe from a possible purge. “It occurred to me that we might do something like that MASS MoCA Sol Lewitt retrospective. We can gather a few grad students and have them create those abstract designs of his directly onto the walls—and if someone objects to a particularly striking pattern in some piece or other, we just paint over the damned thing immediately. No mess, no fuss.”
Finally, Corcoran Senior Director of Communications and Marketing Kristin Guiter revealed a stunning move by that museum’s staff. “We are not looking to remove any particular works from the building, or cancel any upcoming exhibitions,” she said via e-mail. “Frankly, that’s old hat. Instead, we intend to move straight to the phase where staff members demand to be fired after not agreeing to resign in disgrace.”
“This is about institutional memory—we went down this road first, and we did it when Jesse Helms was still alive and somehow elected to hold government office. I mean, he was a scary, bigoted reptile, right? John Boehner is just some oddly pigmented mid-westerner who doesn’t like taxes.”
When asked if she feels that the Corcoran has been surpassed by the Smithsonian, Guiter reflected on the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition, The Perfect Moment, which then-director Christina Orr-Cahal cancelled in 1989, igniting a firestorm of protest. “Scrapping the Mapplethorpe show was a first brave step into the realm of cultural institutions eschewing bravery. I think if we put our minds to it, we can recapture that paranoid moment, and take the lead in showing the Smithsonian what it really means to not stand behind your process, your programming, or even your own mission statement.”
Editor’s note: After the first paragraph, I made everything up.